Best Cell Phone Coverage 2019

What’s the point of a cell phone if you can’t use it?
  • Best Overall
    Read Review
    4.5 out of 5 overall
  • Best for TV Fans
    Read Review
    3.5 out of 5 overall
  • Best for High Speeds
    Read Review
    4.25 out of 5 overall
  • Best On A Budget
    Read Review
    3.75 out of 5 overall

Do your eyes ever glaze over when you hear words like “coverage” and “reliability” during a cell phone plans commercial? Yeah, us too. Here’s the reality with cell phone providers: Verizon’s the best provider for getting all the calls, texts, and unlimited data you need, whether you’re in the city or out in rural areas.

AT&T and T-Mobile put up a good fight for the next spot, but AT&T pulls ahead—it’s better for most rural areas. City dwellers will do just fine with T-Mobile (and you’d get faster speeds too).

Sprint rounds off our list as a solid budget network—it may be the best option for someone looking for a less expensive way to get wireless network coverage nationwide, especially in cities.1,2

Cell phone plans from top providers

There are tons of wireless providers out there, but which one is the best network for you? The last thing you want is to pay extra for features you won’t even use, like an international cell phone plan or roaming. Don’t waste your money on a wireless provider that doesn’t give you what you’re looking for.

Verizon: Best Overall

Verizon’s coverage reigns supreme

Source: WhistleOut

Pros

  • Top coverage
  • Fastest download speeds

Cons

  • Expensive

What we like about Verizon

Verizon has not only the best 4G LTE network coverage in all 50 states, but it’s also consistently fast,1 so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a cool place to eat tonight, uploading Instagram stories, or using Google to win an argument.

We can’t promise you won’t run into any dead spots, but you’re a lot less likely to encounter problems pretty much anywhere you go.

Who is Verizon best for?

  • Those concerned about rural coverage
  • Business travelers
  • Rural, suburban, and city users alike

What we don’t like about Verizon

Verizon is typically more expensive than the other three big carriers, but if you want the best coverage, it may be worth the extra moolah to make sure your calls go through. How many horror movies could’ve been prevented with good cell phone coverage? Just saying.

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Verizon saved my life
One time while hiking in Moab, our car broke down on the way to a trail. My AT&T family plan network wasn’t picking up any bars, but my friend who was on Verizon got just enough cell signal to call roadside assistance. If that hadn’t happened, my bones would be lying in the dust of Moab right now.

If you want more information about Verizon, make sure read our full review.

Verizon unlimited plans and prices

AT&T Wireless: Best for TV fans

AT&T’s coverage is solid, and it’s a less expensive option with decent TV benefits included.

Source: WhistleOut

Pros

  • Second best coverage
  • Free streaming data

Cons

  • Some dead spots

What we like about AT&T

AT&T isn’t too far behind Verizon in terms of coverage (unless you’re stuck in Moab somewhere, apparently), and it doesn’t quite beat out T-Mobile for speed.1 However, it easily beats Verizon and T-Mobile when it comes to pricing—that’s a big deal.

Here’s a good way to think of it: AT&T will cover you most of the time and you’ll pay around $5–$10 less a month than you would with Verizon. Plus, AT&T does have perks for streaming, like free cellular data for AT&T TV NOW. You’ll be happy to have your device in your back pocket when you’re bored on the train.

Who is AT&T best for?

  • TV fans
  • Those who don’t want to pay Verizon’s price, but still need similar coverage
  • Some rural users, but mostly suburban and city users

What we don’t like about AT&T

Most of the country is covered, but you should still look at AT&T’s coverage map. For example, if you live in Nebraska, you’ll be happy you looked at this map. The cell signal on your device will be as reliable as the Nebraska football program. (Sorry, that was a low blow, Nebraska.)

For a better idea of AT&T’s cell phone plans, read our full review.

AT&T unlimited plans and prices

T-Mobile: Best for high speeds

Straightforward pricing and fast speeds make T-Mobile a solid, less expensive option.

Source: T-Mobile

Pros

  • Second-fastest download speeds
  • Lots of unthrottled data

Cons

  • Less reliable coverage in rural areas

What we like about T-Mobile

T-Mobile’s coverage plan might not get you through some of the more rural parts of the country (especially in the Northwest) but for the most part, you’ll enjoy fast speeds for a reasonable price. It’s ranked second-fastest, right behind Verizon.1,2

T-Mobile doesn’t throttle your speeds on your device until after you use 50 GB of unlimited data, meaning you can stream music, movies, and download apps to your heart’s content. Seriously, good luck racking up 50 GB of data in a month. Unless you plan on literally binge-watching every second of the month, you shouldn’t experience much of a slow down.

Who is T-Mobile best for?

  1. Suburban and city dwellers (rural areas may experience more outages)
  2. People who want fast speeds
  3. People who want or need 50 GB of unthrottled data
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Who offers better perks?
While we’d still say AT&T offers slightly better perks and coverage, T-Mobile gives it a good run for its money. T-Mobile includes Netflix (with unlimited plans over two lines), mobile hotspot data, and in-flight Wi-Fi on Gogo®-enabled flights.

What we don’t like about T-Mobile

T-Mobile should work for most people outside of rural areas, but you can see for yourself on the coverage map. If you happen to hail from the great states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, or Nevada in particular, we would say to avoid T-Mobile altogether. You’re bound to run into dead zones frequently, and that’s annoying.

Or if you’d like to dig more into T-Mobile’s cell phone benefits, read our full review.

T-Mobile unlimited plans and prices

Sprint: Best on a budget

Sprint’s cheap prices may be just what you need—but its coverage, speed, and performance are lacking.

Source: Sprint

Pros

  • Affordable plans
  • Discounted Hulu and Tidal subscriptions

Cons

  • Poor coverage overall

What we like about Sprint

Sprint has some of the best prices for cell phone plans, and they’re better now that the Unlimited Plus plan also gets you Hulu and Tidal subscriptions bundled in. Seriously, you can get an unlimited plan with Sprint for more than half the price you would with a Verizon or T-Mobile.

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How much money am I saving with Sprint?
The Unlimited Kickstart plan only costs $25 a month, which is a whopping $50 less a month than Verizon’s basic unlimited plan. That’s almost like a Nintendo Switch game every month!

TV, music, and cell phone service on the cheap is a good way to go, especially for people trying to consolidate their finances to save up for cars, houses, and Elon Musk’s flamethrowers. (What, we’re the only ones doing that?) You won’t have as good of coverage as you would with Verizon, but you’ll save a bunch of bucks.

Who is Sprint best for?

  • Those who don’t need maximum coverage and want to save
  • City folks and those in surrounding areas
  • More budget-minded users

What we don’t like about Sprint

The downside is the less-than-great coverage.1 You’ll notice a drop in bars if you plan on venturing basically anywhere out west.

Honestly, a Sprint plan only makes sense if you live where you can get a Sprint cell phone signal. If you live back east, you’ve got a nice coverage area that should support you just fine. Beware to those who live anywhere west of Kansas and east of Los Angeles . . . your coverage area is super unreliable.

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What’s the deal with the Sprint and T-Mobile merger?
The Sprint and T-Mobile merger feels pretty imminent at this point and the good news is that the coverage area should increase substantially. On the other hand, a price increase also feels inevitable. It was nice while it lasted.

Make sure to double check in the coverage map above that Sprint covers your area. And if you want to dig a little deeper, you can read our full Sprint review.

Sprint unlimited plans and prices

Additional cell phone carrier options

If these four options have burned you in the past and you want to try something totally new, consider trying Metro by T-Mobile (formerly Metro PCS), Cricket Wireless, Total Wireless, Google Fi, or even Tracfone.

These companies often use a Big Four (Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T) cell tower, so you’ll generally still have good coverage, but you’ll be dealing with a different company and what it has to offer.

Best wireless alternatives

Why availability matters

If New York City has perfect coverage, it doesn’t matter much to the folks in Durango, Colorado. We can’t stress this enough: check coverage maps for the places you need service the most.

Where do you need voice and data coverage?

Basically, the better the coverage nationwide, the less you’ll have to think about whether you have coverage or not. Most phone calls or texts aren’t life or death (but some are), but the last thing we want to worry about is if our call will even go through.

  • Home: You don’t want to rely strictly on your home phone (if you have one) or on your home Wi-Fi network to get timely or important messages.
  • Work: You definitely need a reliable data connection for work—whether it’s for phone meetings, telecommuting, video conferences, or, y’know, browsing dank memes.
  • School: Need to email a professor asking for an extension? With a good connection, you won’t have to blame your tardy turn-ins on your cell phone.
  • Commute: What’s better than listening to podcasts about conspiracy theories or murder? Nothing—so you’ll want coverage even on the road.
  • Restaurants: Do you eat out downtown more than out in the country? Or do you regularly take drives into the mountains for dinner with a view? Either way, you need good data to Instagram your dinner.
  • Nightlife: Don’t drink and drive—make sure you can call a Lyft at 2 a.m. from your local watering holes and dance clubs. You don’t want to walk five miles in those heels at the end of a long night of getting jiggy with it.
  • Outdoor excursions: You ever been stuck on a mountain without service? You need coverage there too—not only so you can upload your epic selfie, but also because it’s much safer to have backup.
  • Family in other areas: You may have great coverage at your home, but if you’re visiting Aunt Tina while she’s hosting a BBQ in the country, you may need to call the kids and have them pick up some extra moist towelettes before they arrive. (Trust us, they are a must.)
  • Business travel: Having no service when you’re in airplane mode is one thing, but you don’t want to lose out on a new deal because you can’t Facetime with a client.
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What does coverage mean to you?
It means you won’t miss calls from the veterinarian with the results of your dog’s surgery. It means you’ll have unlimited data on road trips for emergency karaoke sessions. And, perhaps most importantly, it means you can call for help if your car breaks down out in the wilderness somewhere.

When coverage matters, price is less of a priority

If you pick the provider with the best coverage (Verizon) you have to cope with its higher-than-average price. In other words, you pay for what you get and you get what you pay for.

Conversely, Sprint offers a good deal on its unlimited plans, which include TV and music subscriptions bundled in, but your coverage will definitely suffer.

Better network coverage is one of most people’s top considerations for switching providers, but money is still a strong factor. If you’re mostly connected to Wi-Fi throughout your day or you just don’t use your phone that much, and you don’t live in a rural area, then it’s less important to get the best coverage, but it’s still something to think about.

How has your experience been with these providers? Any horror stories or tales of redemption? Let us know in the comments below!

Sources

  1. OpenSignal.com, “USA Mobile Network Experience Report January 2019
  2. RootMetrics, “RootMetrics